Teaching Music to Make a Change

Jen Hoyer's recorder students at the Keiskamma Trust. Photo: Jen Hoyer

by Maureen Ononiwu

This article originally appeared on the justgeneration.ca website.  It has been reprinted with permission.

Jen Hoyer left her job as a librarian in Edmonton to volunteer overseas as a music teacher a year ago.  Today, the young Canadian is making a difference in the lives of children in an isolated rural community in South Africa.

Jen trains children to play musical instruments at Keiskamma Music Academy, in Hamburg. The music academy is part of the Keiskamma Trust, a PWRDF partner organization. Keiskamma is a community organization in the rural area of the Eastern Cape of South Africa, which works to address the challenges of widespread poverty and disease through holistic and creative programs including health, art, education and music.

The children Jen teaches are 10 to 16-year-olds. Keiskamma Music Academy provides an opportunity for extracurricular activity, self expression and talent development for these vulnerable children who would otherwise be home doing chores.  Through Keiskamma, they get to go on musical tours and social events as well as receive training on various musical instruments.  All that is required of them is that they practice, show up on time for lessons and take care of their instruments.

Jen describes her students as self-motivated.  “They have to push themselves to be there on Saturday mornings and after classes.” She is particularly inspired by the progress she sees in her students over time.

“When I first arrived, there was this boy who was shy and struggled with his lessons.” The boy was later discovered to have vision problems.

“We got him a pair of glasses and it was as if he had grown six inches taller.  The fact that someone cared enough really meant a lot to him. He loves being there.”

“It is also a thrill to see a kid who has been learning violin since February become really good at it by June. They really believe in themselves,” Jen says.

Jen is a trained musical performer and holds a Bachelor of Music in recorder and piano performance from The King’s University College, Edmonton.  Jen, who is an Anglican, was aware of the connection between Keiskamma and PWRDF when she made the move to South Africa. She says the association gives her a link to home.

“I grew up hearing about PWRDF.  It is nice to know that whether my friends in Canada realize it or not, the money they offer as donation to PWRDF is supporting my endeavors.” Jen is not the only member of her family who is connected to the PWRDF. Her sister Gillian is a PWRDF Youth Council member and involved in justgeneration.ca.

PWRDF has always believed in local solutions to local problems, which is why PWRDF partners with grassroots organizations such as Keiskamma to help local people to improve their lives and their communities.  This is a mandate that Jen believes in.  She acknowledges that moving to a new community has its challenges but views that one has to be a part of a community to make a change.

“One reason why I like the Anglican Church is that they believe in doing social justice where you are, in your community.  I am in a different community and that is what I am doing,” she says.

Jen and a student

Jen Hoyer and one of her students. Photo: Jen Hoyer

View more stories on: Africa Stories, Local Heroes, South Africa Stories